One of the more interesting and innovative inventors and designers of fishing reels was Leonard Atwood of Maine.
Atwood, with sixty-one patents filed in his name, was ultimately awarded patents for a wide variety of inventions. He is credited with building the first oil pipeline in the world, inventing the first practical elevator known at the time as a “vertical railway”. He installed the first elevators beginning in 1868 in a number of high buildings in New York City and in the U.S. Capital, eventually selling his patents and company to the Otis Elevator Co.
He also helped create the first modern geared fishing reel. Atwood’s patented Variable Tension Reel from 1907 used a prototype of a modern disc drag system, which was a great improvement over the existing click and pawl system used to control the tension of the line on the reel as the line was played out by a running fish.
One of his most unusual inventions was the split-frame reel with an elaborate hinged mechanism that allowed it to be oiled without being removed from the reel seat. Atwood was awarded a patent for this reel design in 1902.
There is only one known example of the hinged Atwood reel in a private collection and the only other record of this design is a series of cabinet card photos featuring what appears to be a second version of the reel.
Atwood’s other reels include a large salmon reel that weighed almost 18 ounces and a smaller trout version that was only 8 ounces. Even though he was awarded five reel patents from 1885 to 1920, his total actual production was less than 500 reels.
Steve Woit is the author of “Fly Fishing Treasures: The World of Fly Fishers and Collecting”, a book featuring profiles of 30 experts and collectors and over 800 photographs of rare and collectible fly rods, reels, flies, books, and ephemera.
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